Stepan’s short-handed goal snapped a tie with 2:48 to play and Raanta preserved the win with a last-second save to lead the Rangers to a 2-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night.
“It’s been a lot of fun coming here and joining this group,” said Staal, who has not been on a playoff team since 2009. “It’s a great group of guys that made me feel real welcome right off the bat. It feels real nice to get the win – that’s what we’re focused on here as a group.”
Staal, acquired in a trade with Carolina on Sunday, had one shot on goal and his failure to get the puck out of his zone in the waning seconds forced Raanta to make a crucial stop.
“Everybody saw the size and puck protection capabilities as he gets more comfortable with the group,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “Every time you add a new piece, you change the dynamics of the group. You got a guy here who comes in and was a captain. He is going to help our leadership group, and we just need to give him a little bit of time to get used to the environment.”
Mats Zuccarello also scored and Raanta made 26 saves in giving the Rangers their 13th win in 18 games (13-4-1). Henrik Lundqvist‘s backup denied Cam Atkinson on the doorstep with less than a second remaining to preserve the victory.
Atkinson scored his 20th goal of the season and Joonas Korpisalo had 22 saves for Columbus, which finished 7-3-3 in February.
Stepan gave the Rangers the lead on a partial breakaway while Eric’s brother, Marc Staal, was in the penalty box. Raanta made it stand up with a pad save on Atkinson just before the final horn. Columbus defenceman Ryan Murray put in the rebound but it came after time ran out.
Raanta wasn’t sure whether the goal counted, but his teammates quickly told him it was late.
“I thought it was in,” Murray said. “I didn’t hear the horn. The adrenaline was going I guess, but I didn’t hear it.”
Eric Staal was the initial focus of this game, after being obtained for prospect Aleksi Saarela and two second-round draft picks.
The Rangers hope Eric Staal will provide scoring for another Stanley Cup run, and he was cheered almost every time he touched the puck in the early going. He started out centring the third line, played left wing on the first line in the third period and finished with almost 16 minutes of ice time. He had one outstanding scoring chance, a second-period shot from the left circle that Korpisalo hugged to his chest.
While Staal had the attention of the Madison Square Garden crowd, the game turned out to be a tight-checking affair in which the goalies were the best players, although Stepan and Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh made the biggest play in the game.
After the Rangers totally shut down a Blue Jackets power play, McDonagh chopped the puck out of his zone and Stepan collected it at the Columbus blue line. He skated in on Korpisalo, gave him a pump-fake with his leg and then cut across the crease to put the puck in an open net.
“It was a great play by Mac,” Stepan said. “I am able to jump up in a situation where it’s just me and the goaltender. Originally I was going to shoot it. I took a look up and took my chances trying to beat him to the back pipe.”
Raanta nursed a 1-0 lead into the third period until Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi made a horrible cross-ice pass at the point that Atkinson intercepted, giving him a clear run at the net.
Raanta stopped the initial shot but Atkinson slammed home the rebound to tie it.
Minutes later, Korpisalo denied Kevin Hayes on a breakaway.
“I thought we did a lot of good things,” said Columbus coach John Tortorella, the Rangers’ bench boss before Vigneault. “I thought we defended well. Again, neither team got too many scoring chances, but they found a way to win.”
The Blue Jackets outshot the Rangers 13-8 in the first period and had the better of play, but they trailed 1-0 thanks to Zuccarello.
Playing what was an extended shift, he took a pass from Dan Boyle, circled the net and banked in a shot off the skate of Blue Jackets defenceman Dalton Prout for his 21st goal of the season.
NOTES: This was the first time the Rangers had brothers in the lineup since Chris and Peter Ferraro on March 7, 1997, at Anaheim. … Columbus captain Nick Foligno played in his 600th NHL game. … Rangers forward Jesper Fast was out with the flu, so defenceman Dylan McIlrath skated on the fourth line as a right wing. He also got into a second-period fight with Jared Boll. … This was the Blue Jackets’ fifth game in eight days. … Boyle picked up his 599th career point on Zuccarello’s goal. … The Rangers’ 10-3-1 record in February matched a franchise best for the month.